Feature

Our School Drum: Building Community and Relationships

Jenny Pert, Melissa Ewanchuck, Michael Boos

Driving down the TransCanada Highway from Thunder Bay to Sioux Lookout, Jenny Pert, a native language teacher at Sioux Mountain Public School, was approaching Ignace when she spotted a group of hunters skinning a moose. She stopped and told them she wanted to make a school drum and wondered if she could use their moose hide. Jenny’s skills of persuasion and the hunters’ act of generosity resulted in a gift of not just one, but two moose hides!

Back at school Jenny presented the idea of creating a school drum to the school staff. The timing could not have been better. ETFO had selected Sioux Mountain Public School to participate in the “Danny Schools” project. It provided funds and teacher release time to help schools develop and implement strategies to strengthen relationships in the school community and ultimately improve student learning.
Jenny and the “Danny” school team began their work by offering tobacco to many people in the community and asking local elders and community members for guidance in treating the moose hides and making a large school drum. Local elders showed Jenny and her students how native peoples traditionally scraped the fleshy side of the moose hide and used ashes to create lye to loosen the coarse hair on the other side of the hide. During the fall, Elder Ralph Johnson worked with students in all of Jenny’s native language classes at Sioux Mountain to model and share the teachings with them.

With the scraping process still unfinished , the colder temperatures of the approaching winter presented new challenges. Darren Lentz, a teacher at Queen Elizabeth High School, showed the students how to scrape the frozen hair from the hide. The students showed pride and determination as they worked tirelessly, knowing they were getting closer to having their drum.

With the raw hide finished, Jenny again offered tobacco to a community Anishnaabe member, Victor Lyon, and asked him to help build the drum. Victor accepted and began building the drum while teaching students how to make individual drum sticks. The drum was completed in four days. When Victor said the drum was ready to be feasted, a pow wow was planned. Invitations went out quickly to the community, while the school staff worked with students in every classroom to prepare hundreds of handmade gifts — including beautifully painted feathers — for the drum celebration.

The day of the pow wow was truly an historic event in Sioux Mountain.

As the beating of the drums began, and dancers wearing fancy shawls and jingle dresses came into the gymnasium for the Grand Entry, there were many who fought back tears of joy. It was an exciting moment as the following comments show:

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